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Defending J. League champions Gamba Osaka withstood a late onslaught to edge Urawa Reds 2-1 at home and keep alive their hopes of a place in the postseason on Saturday.

Goals from Hiroyuki Abe and Shun Nagasawa earned Gamba the crucial victory and put them within two points of third-place FC Tokyo in the overall standings with three games of the season remaining.

“It was a difficult game, but we got the three points,” said Gamba captain Yasuhito Endo. “We had a bit of a scare at the end but everyone dug in hard.

“If we lose in the league, it’s all over. It was a really important game for us. The remaining three games of the (regular) season are crucial and we just have to win them all.”

Second-stage leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima took the lead in the overall table on 65 points ahead of Reds on goal difference as Satoshi Yamagishi struck in the 93rd minute in a 2-1 win at home to Kawasaki Frontale.

At the other end of the table, Shimizu S-Pulse’s relegation to the second division for the first time in the club’s history was confirmed.

Shimizu’s 1-0 defeat at home to Vegalta Sendai coupled with a 2-0 win for Albirex Niigata over Matsumoto Yamaga in a later match means it can finish no higher than 16th in the overall standings.

At Expo Stadium, Gamba took the lead after just seven minutes. Shingo Akamine won possession deep in Reds’ half and fed Abe, whose cross-cum-shot into the box bounced beyond the boot of Endo and nestled in the far corner of the net.

“I didn’t get a touch on it but it was a great pass in from Abe and it just went in. It was a good goal,” Endo said.

Urawa threatened to hit back in the 18th minute but Oh Jae-suk cleared the danger when he hacked away Yuki Muto’s ball across the face of goal.

Reds had the better of the final stages of the first half and kept up the pressure in the second.

Gamba goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi pulled off a smart save to keep out a blistering shot from Ryota Moriwaki and then comfortably gathered a header form Tomoaki Makino.

Tsukasa Umesaki then missed another chance for Reds when he headed wide in the 54th minute and Gamba made it 2-0 against the run of play shortly before the hour mark.

Endo floated a free kick into the box and Nagasawa took advantage of slack marking from Makino to glance the ball into the left-hand corner just three minutes after coming into the game to replace Akamine.

“I saw Nagasawa making a good run and it is pleasing for us when players come off the bench to score like that,” said Endo.

Nagasawa had a shot cleared off the line and Higashiguchi came up with another crucial save in the 79th minute, this time from Yosuke Kashiwagi, to keep Reds at bay.

Substitute Zlatan Ljubijankic drove home from close range in the 91st minute and then went desperately close to snatching an equalizer, scooping over after his header had come back off the crossbar.

In other games, Yuma Suzuki scored the winner in the 91st minute as Kashima Antlers rebounded from their shock midweek exit in the Emperor’s Cup to come from behind and beat Kashiwa Reysol 3-2, while there was also late drama at Nissan Stadium as Manabu Saito scored in the fourth minute of injury time in Yokohama F. Marinos’ 2-1 win at home to Vissel Kobe.

FC Tokyo was stunned 2-1 at home to Shonan Bellmare, Daisuke Kikuchi clinching victory for the visitors in the 55th minute, Sho Inagaki gave Ventforet Kofu a 1-0 win at Montedio Yamagata, while Sagan Tosu against Nagoya Grampus finished 0-0.

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